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Mississippi Election 2011: Initiative 27, Voter ID

By Jeffrey Hess | Published 02 Nov 2011 06:38pm | comments
Tom Lord.

Mississippi's November 8th General election ballot includes three proposed constitutional amendments. One amendment has the potential to affect every voter in the state, by requiring voters to show a government approved photo ID before they can cast a ballot. MPB's Jeffrey Hess has more on Mississippi's voter ID amendment.

Efforts to get a voter ID law on the books in Mississippi have been underway for more than a decade in the state legislature.

However, after years of trying Lawmakers did not pass a voter ID law, so supporters like Tom Lord a retiree living in Jackson, took to the street and collected more than 100-thousand signatures to get the issue on the ballot.

Lord says the additional requirement to show a government approved photo ID is a simple request that can safe guard the integrity of Mississippi's elections.

"And that is all we want to do is keep the elections honest. We want full participation. Anyone who is qualified to vote, we want them to vote," Lord said.

Mississippi has a long and violent history of suppressing voter turnout especially among the African-American community.

For many this initiative is a remnant of the time before the 1965 voting rights act, says Mississippi NAACP president Derek Johnson.

"There is a segment of the state's population who simply want to limit access to the polling place. When in fact the method they are using has never been proven to solve any policy problem that it is alleging to solve. And one can only derive from that, it is an attempt to limit access to the polling place," Johnson said.

Johnson says African-American, poor, elderly and young voters will be hit harder by the amendment because they are less likely to have the required ID.

Studies looking for solid numbers on a percentage of ID ownership are conflicting, ranging anywhere from 25-percent of black voters lacking ID to just one percent of all Mississippians not possessing an ID.

State senator Joey Fillingane of Sumrall...a voter ID supporter... says this amendment is modeled after a law in effect in Indiana which was challenged and up held by the US Supreme Court.

"This has already been court tested, this very language that we have used from Indiana's statute. So I don't see why it would pass muster for Indiana but not for Mississippi," Sumrall said.

The amendment does include language that would require the Department of Public Safety to provide a voting ID for free of charge.

Nsombi Lambright with the Mississippi ACLU says there are hidden costs to getting a voter ID.... such as paying the state health department 15-dollars to get a copy of a birth certificate that is one of a list of possible documents needed to get a voter ID.

"The states of Georgia and South Carolina are having problems now with individuals who could not find their birth certificates or adequate records in order to get those government issued identifications. It is also going to be a financial burden on an individual to pay for it, thus resulting in a poll tax," Lambright.

Because of Mississippi's vast rural areas, citizens might have to travel many miles to get to a license office to get an ID, which could be a burden for elderly or disabled voters.

There have been a handful of instances of voter fraud in Mississippi's recent past...but those have largely been absentee ballot fraud which the I-D rules would do nothing to stop.

Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann says the voter ID requirement is just the first in a series of changes the he believes are necessary to secure Mississippi's election process.

"You will see us start talking further about absentee ballot fraud and other issues that arise in the system. But over all I think we are progressing along. This will be part of an over package to ensuring the integrity of the vote. And voter ID is an important part of that," Hosemann said.

30 states have voter ID laws, 14 of them are in the south.

Marty Wiseman, the director of the Stennis Institute of Government at Mississippi State University says the Justice department would have to approve the change because of Mississippi's history of racial discrimination.

"Having to prove their identity was one of the last tricks in the book to keep African-Americans from voting before the voting rights act of '65. I think on the part of the people who put it out there, it is still a pretty obnoxious move on their part. As many people have said, it is a solution in search of a problem because if you look at the amount of voter fraud prosecuted nationally, it is miniscule," Wiseman said.

In order to be approved, 50-percent of people voting on the amendment must support it....but the total number of votes cast on the amendment must also be at least 40-percent of the total votes cast in the election.



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